15 February 2022

I acknowledge that this parliament sits on the lands of the Ngunnawal people and the Ngambri peoples, and I honour the ongoing contributions of all First Nation elders past and present.


They're part of the world's oldest continuing culture resident here in our nation.


We're remembering the apology, that amazing speech given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and it was a seminal moment in our nation.


I remember it mostly for the impact that it had.


When I saw Kevin come up to Royal Darwin Hospital, lots of countrymen were out the front as there often is, lots of First Nations elders that have come in from communities either for health treatment themselves or to visit loved ones, to support their friends and family.


And I'd been working with Jose Ramos-Horta, the former president of Timor-Leste at around the time that he survived an assassination attempt.


So we brought him back to Royal Darwin Hospital, and Kevin Rudd as new Prime Minister had come up to Darwin to see Jose.


And as we went in the doors of the Royal Darwin Hospital out the front, those elders said, “Thanks, Kevin. Good on you, Kevin.”


And it was without fanfare, there were no cameras.


It was from the heart and it was just expressing that bit of relief, a bit of joy, a bit of gratitude that someone had extended that apology on behalf of our nation.


And it was something I'll never forget. Never forget it.

It was beautiful, and it showed that we, as a nation, had heard the apology as a nation, and that we were proud as a nation that it had been done.


Of course, we kind of wondered why it took that long.


What deficiency of humility, of grace, had led to such a delay in the extension of that apology?


But it was a wonderful, wonderful moment.


As others have done, I’d like to reflect on some personal experiences.


In the late 70s or early 80s, I was a young fella, and a school friend of mine, his parents had gone to work on an Aboriginal mission in the wheat belt of WA, a little place called Tardun near Mullewa.


And so I went over there to visit my friend, I think was the first time I'd ever been on a plane, from Melbourne over to Perth, and then by road up to this mission.


And so it was my first experience with Aboriginal people over in WA.


These kids were amazing sportsmen and sportswomen. They were incredible.


And it was a great experience to be with them on their country. I was going to a high school in Healesville in the hills north of Melbourne, which of course, is where Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve was.


And we had some Aboriginal kids at St Brigid's Catholic Primary School, but I hadn't really connected the dots.


But being out on this mission, I saw what I thought at that time seemed to be working for everyone.


But of course, in time and with maturity, you realise that whilst an education is important, being with your family is incredibly important.


And as I moved to the Territory and made so many other members of the Stolen Generation, I gained a fuller appreciation for this intergenerational trauma and harm caused by the separation.


So that's why I really, really keenly appreciated the gratitude and humility in which former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered that apology on behalf of the nation.


Because in the Top End, there are lots of people and their families who have that have had that experience of being taken away.


And Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney articulated that incredibly well in her speech following the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition’s speeches in this place.


When the Member for Barton, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, during her speech was acknowledging some of the First Nations members in this place, including Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Senator Pat Dodson from the Labor Party, she also mentioned former Senator Nova Peris, who, when she joined the Senate, was the first First Nations woman ever elected to our parliament.


And I had the good fortune to work with Nova for a period.


So I report to the House that post-politics, Nova is doing incredibly well.


She's established the Nova Peris Foundation, she’s doing some project work with the Tiwi Islands, the Royal Australian Navy recently had her commission the new ship Arafura down in Adelaide, which I think is extremely appropriate.


And she can feel very proud that she played a strong role in that campaign to free the Aboriginal flag.


So, well done, Nova.


Former Prime Minister Paul Keating in his speech 30 years ago in Redfern spoke of the power of truth on our reconciliation journey.


So I hope that we are able to fully implement the findings the Uluru Statement from the Heart: a voice to parliament, truth-telling and treaty.


I hope we will have that opportunity to bring about further healing, and also through practical action, in health and housing in particular.


When Kevin Rudd delivered the apology, people got to know Lorna Fejo, who's the mother of a good friend of mine, Richie Fejo.


A couple of years ago, when Luna had a significant birthday, we lined up a call so that Kevin could wish Lorna Fejo a happy birthday.


It was a beautiful moment.


And back then, in 2008 when Kevin delivered the apology, he said to Lorna, “Do I call you auntie?” and she said, “No, you can call me by my skin name, Kevin: Nanggala, Nana Nanggala”.


Nana Nanggala Fejo is unwell at the moment, and we send her our love and appreciation and the respect of this House.